Tag Archives: Garden Conservancy Open Days

beyond the lawn; part 2

Leave, my friend (for it is high time), the low and sordid pursuits of life to others, and in this safe and snug retreat emancipate yourself for your studies.” — Pliny the Younger

Another house on the Garden Conservancy Open Days tour in Los Angeles this early May had some wonderful ideas.
Right at the curb, the broad, decomposed granite parkway provided stark contrast to the neighboring turfed properties.
Even though this house and garden stand out among the others on its street and carry a bit of the shock of the new, the design principles upon which it draws are old.
Very old. Ancient, in fact. Indeed, the designer didn’t stray very far at all from the source materials for mediterranean homes and gardens.

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Step away from the street and the double rows of parked cars, up a short flight of steps, and we could be entering a Roman villa.

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And I’m talking about garden principles faithful in spirit. The Romans would have used myrtle and box, not the Australian westringia, but the latter’s small leaves fit in seamlessly.

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Landscape architect Joseph Marek began work in 2011, with more fine-tuning in 2014.

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By a cleverly strategic, stripped-down use of water and plants, a lushness and vitality is nevertheless communicated and felt.
Through gestures such as the rill in the front garden.

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From the tour notes: “[I]n 2014…the garden was re-graded and all lawn was removed from both the front garden and the wide parkway.
Once cleared, the house’s true scale and presence were revealed…
A gurgling iris-lined lily pond, intersecting a richly colored sandstone and gravel courtyard surrounded by Mediterranean,
Australian and native California plants now welcomes neighbors and visitors

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Step through the portico, follow the path into the back garden, and we could be in Ibiza or Santorini.

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The side path leads to a trellised table area.

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Looking from the pergola, past a small fountain, to the pool.

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Looking down the length of the pool reveals a prioritized, economical use of space.
(And to further update a neoclassical setting, I believe that’s actress Rosalind Chao, nee Keiko O’Brien of Star Trek: TNG, under the olive.)

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The chairs and fire pit area are semi-screened from the pergola by citrus and from the neighbors by towering bamboo.
Ancient principles are clearly stated here, that irrigation should not be wasted on plants serving as shallow-rooted carpeting underfoot.
Water is prized, framed and contained, where its liquid abilities to brim and spill can be appreciated, but never squandered.

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Looking at the main house.
Buxom evergreen plants of box and citrus flesh out the patterned geometric surfaces underfoot.
This all just makes so much sense for hot and dry Los Angeles, a frenetic city that requires strong doses of sanctuary (and not just from the sun).
As Pliny the Younger puts it, in such a place as this we can leave the “low and sordid pursuits of life to others.” Amen, Pliny.

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Looking at the apartment/studio connected by the pergola to the main house.
Materials could be COR-Ten steel, recycled concrete, any neoclassical references on pergolas can be stripped away.
The basic premise remains that, weather permitting, it’s outside the home where mundane activities like napping, reading, eating, become heightened adventures
shared with the birds, the wind, the sun. Perhaps it’s a primal link to a time when we were outdoors far more than indoors?

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Under a surface luxury lies careful, conservative planning, strategic use of plants, water, shade, based on timeless design principles for summer-dry climates.

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I wouldn’t be surprised if we’re treated to more about this garden.

the desert gardens of Steve Martino

I’m checking the Garden Conservancy’s Open Days website daily now, anxiously awaiting full publication of this year’s schedule. I’m expanding my radius to include Phoenix and Tucson, Arizona, Palm Springs, California, New Mexico, anyplace I’ll be likely to find some inspiring desert gardens. I’m hoping gardens designed by Steve Martino will be included on the tour. Here’s why:

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From Mr. Martin’s Palm Springs Garden Pinterest board.

monday clippings 4/29/13

I was living large with orange marmalade on my bagel this morning, after trying it on some excellent shortbread Sunday afternoon. I first tasted then bought the marmalade from the Arlington Garden in Pasadena yesterday, where it’s made from their Washington Navel orange trees. (The shortbread was said to be Ina Garten’s recipe.) The Arlington Garden was on the Pasadena Open Days Garden Conservancy Tour, the same day as the Huntington Botanical Gardens plant sale, where I spent a very warm morning. (Does Pasadena do any other temperature?) When plant sales and garden tours collide on the same day, tough choices must be made. I skipped the Pasadena Open Days. The tour of the Arlington was free, so I stopped in briefly on the way out of town to make the first of what I know will be many visits. It’s very close to the south 110 freeway onramp on the Arroyo Seco Parkway, California’s first freeway, always an exciting ride when drivers insist on taking its narrow, lazy curves at 85 mph. Like the Arroyo Seco, the Arlington is also a first, “Pasadena‚Äôs only dedicated public garden.” The wildflowers were mostly finished, but the air was heavy and pungent with all the mediterranean scrubby stuff I love so much. Three acres is enough to build up a heady concentration of layered scent that envelopes you from the moment you step off the sidewalk onto the garden’s meandering paths.

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Just behind the stone labyrinth, plein air painters set up their easels at the Arlington Garden under the shade of a California pepper tree

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Although the California poppies were over, there were stands of red corn poppies, Papaver rhoes.

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Some details from earlier in the day at the Huntington’s desert garden. Echeveria aff. potosina, Mexico (San Luis Potosi)

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So many small relevations in the desert garden, like the mass effect of Haworthia cuspidata in bloom

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Haworthia greenii

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Bromeliads in the cloud forest conservatory

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The Huntington still gets me as overexcited as a kid at Disneyland, though my brain continually sheds plant names like my corgi sheds fur. I didn’t forget the name of this conehead in the rain forest conservatory. It was tagless. The leaves reminded me of hedychium.

Oh, before I forget, from the plant sale I brought home a manfreda and a small Yucca rostrata.

More GC Open Days/Pasadena

More on the Pasadena gardens on the Garden Conservancy Open Days, April 25, 2010.

This was my first tour of Pasadena gardens. I knew the gardens would be large, stately, formal. What I wasn’t prepared for was their scale. The six we saw were truly estate gardens in every sense of the word. Seeing the vernacular elements of garden design on this massive scale can be disorienting; coming home later to my little garden, it felt like I was looking at it through the wrong end of a telescope. It took a couple days before the fun-house mirror effect wore off and my garden looked normal again and not so…well, so squished.

Sally and Harlan Bixby Garden. Spanish Revival architecture, 1922. One-acre garden redesigned in 1990’s by Owen Peterson/Bob Erickson.

Immediately I sensed a languor to human movement through such large spaces. You slow down, amble, drift along.


To admire intimate details of inlaid tiles adorning doorways and arches.



And a juggernaut of Euphorbia ammak jutting up well past the roof.
The Huntington curated this desert garden, accessed through a side gate off the main pool/pergola area.



The wisteria on the pergolas had already bloomed, but more scented plants were arrayed in large pots around the pool, including brugmansias, roses, and plumeria. I sat down on the pool’s retaining wall covered in Delft tiles to take in the opposite matching pergolas and the flight of steps flanked in enormous Aloe plicatus leading up to the house.


Pleasure grounds in every sense, sybaritic, Gatsby-esque.



All photos by MB Maher.

The Garden Conservacy Open Days – Pasadena

A small taste of the tour held Sunday, April 25, 2010. This is from Rancho La Loma.

I haven’t seen terracing like this since the Cinque Terre in Italy, the difference being the use of our “local stone,” repurposed broken concrete stacked for the retaining walls. The designer, Marco Barrantes, told me he uses gravel between the stacked concrete for extra stability.

These baby ducks had found a shady nest in some golden sedge.


I found the elder Mr. Barrantes walking the paths of this beautiful garden his son created for him, chatting with the garden tourists and answering questions about the plants and what kind of grapes they grew (Zinfandel. And yes, they are made into wine.) Before he turned away from our brief exchange, he looked back and said simply, “I am happy.”

Indeed. Looks like la dolce vita to me.


All photos by MB Maher.